Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Known Turf, Unknown Turf: Annie Zaidi

By John Cheeran
Of course, Annie Zaidi writes about her known turf in Known Turf, a good thing to do if you are a journalist. Deeply made aware of her religious identity by people around her and shaped by the rigours of journalism, Zaidi has put together a few sketches of India where the predictable rules.
The sneering attitude of men towards women dominates the pages though Zaidi starts her book with a lot of promise by venturing to find out why Chambal is such a fertile terrain for dacoits.
Someone, indeed, threw this book at me and having read Known Turf I’m grateful for that assault. Between the lines, I could recognize Zaidi’s silent wish to be another Arundhati Roy. No crime that is. The true tales narrated by Zaidi did not make me shudder or wonder for the fact that one has been quite familiar with such situations. It is a pity that life has not prepared most of the reporters in English language newspapers in India for a class steeplechase; many ordinary moments in urban and rural life are epiphanies for such tribe when they step out for a story. Zaidi, too, is no exception. Her forays into reporting make no fresh ground but issues that she writes about such as dalit resurgence in Punjab, struggles of weavers in Benares and starvation deaths in MP do deserve readers’ pause.
Zaidi’s anxieties and self-doubts on her beat, at a certain level, assail the reader as when she writes “what do you do when a man minus three limbs in a government hospital trauma ward begins to sing?”
Her attempts to answer questions such as ‘what are you’ and ‘where are you from’ in the latter half of the book, however, should have been restricted to blogosphere.

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